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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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When Under Stress, Do you Fight, Flight, or Freeze?

Uploaded: Mar 18, 2016
While we are human beings capable of thinking, many of our reactions do not come from our thinking, or cortical, brain. They come from our limbic, or emotional, brain.

We still exist as a species because of this. Threat is perceived in 1/200th of a second, and our physiology changes in an instant so that we can fight, flight, or freeze for survival.
It's not bad or wrong that this happens; it's hardwired into us. It's what we do with it that determines how we recover equilibrium internally and interdependently.

We still need this limbic ability to react; we slam on our brakes while driving, return to the curb to prevent being run over, and so on. While we're not going to be eaten by a lion here in Silicon Valley (at least not an actual one), there are threats we perceive nonetheless.

The same part of the brain (limbic/emotional) gets activated by interactions with people, too. So when we feel, experience, or perceive a threat from a person such as our partner or boss, we react in 1/200th of a second (we can learn ways to respond once the reaction goes by).

When a poor interaction happens with your beloved, do you fight, flight, freeze?
For the fight or flight reacting people, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to recover once their heart rate has gotten to 90 or above per minute. For the freeze person, it may take much longer.

It's okay to take a break when you’re activated; hopefully you can tell your partner you'll come back in 20 to 30 minutes. But do come back and make a repair. No one wants to be walked out on in the middle of a disagreement without knowing you’re coming back and approximately when.

While taking a break, do something calming or that you enjoy such as listening to music, running, or writing in a journal, etc. Try not to ruminate on what a %#&* you think your partner was (that won't help your brain or physiology calm down).

Now that your cortical, thinking brain is back on line, come back to the person you love, the one you chose, and reach out for repair. Find out what you can learn about one another. Be curious. You might begin with: "That didn't go well, let's try again . . . "

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